by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

In August, 1987, unions of Federal workers filed a lawsuit to stop the Administration from requiring more than two million Federal workers to sign nondisclosure agreements in an effort to silence dissent. Workers had to promise not to reveal classified information or even information deemed “classifiable.”

In December, 1987, Congress prohibited the implementation of the secrecy agreements, saying they violate the employees’ First Amendment rights and interfere with the right of Congress to be fully informed of waste, fraud, and abuse.

On May 27, 1988, in a little-publicized decision, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Gasch overturned the Congressional prohibition, effectively giving the President sole authority over national security information. Equally disturbing, the decision reinforced the authority of the President’s National Security Decision Directive 84 issued in 1983, which the secrecy agreements implement.

NSDD 84, called the anti-leak directive, is one of almost 300 NSDDs issued by President Reagan which carry the force of law and are known as “secret laws.” Reagan used “secret laws” and “white propaganda” to implement his agenda and to manipulate media coverage. Reagan used the NSDD procedure to implement actions ranging from deployment of nuclear weapons to ordering the U.S. attack on Grenada.

NSDD directives, like executive orders and presidential findings are issued by the president but differ, however, in that executive orders are published, while findings, which are classified, notify Congress about intelligence operations. NSDDs do neither Further, unlike presidential terms, NSDDs do not expire every four years. In his effort to manipulate the media and the public mindset, Reagan signed a directive on January 13, 1983, called “management of Public Diplomacy Relative to National Security,” which established the Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD). One of its tactics, often used by the CIA in foreign countries and known in the intelligence community as “white propaganda,” calls for planting articles and stories in the press under the names of third parties. These OPD activities were conducted inside the United States with the full knowledge of the White House.

In a “confidential” memorandum dated 3/13/85, OPD deputy director Jonathan Miller cited five examples of OPD success: an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal attributed to an academic but actually written by OPD staff; a positive NBC news story on the contras; two opinion pieces written by OPD “consultants” but published under the names of contra leaders (one in the New York Times and another in the Washington Post); and briefings arranged for contra leader Alfonso Robelo at the Post, Newsweek, and USA Today.

At the request of Congress, the General Accounting Office investigated the OPD and ruled that its operations were illegal. It closed its doors officially in 1987 but it may be gone in name only. At the time, State Department officials let it be known that they would “simply reorganize the office, distributing its functions to other parts of the department.”


THE NATION, July 2/9, 1988, “Reagan Rex;” SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, 8/3/88, “Presidential `secret laws’ under probe,” both by Angus Mackenzie and Eve Pell; PROPAGANDA REVIEW, Summer 88, “Reagan’s Propaganda Ministry,” by Peter Kornbluh, pp 25-28.